Relapse Warning signs



5- Relapse Warning Signs


This page provides a list of relapse warning signs that commonly lead addicts in recovery into using drugs. By recognizing these signs you will have a better chance to guard yourself against a relapse.


1. Mental changes

2. Attitude changes

3. Behavior changes


In the previous pages we learned that relapse is a process consisting of three disintegrating phases: emotional, mental, and, finally, physical — the point at which we use drugs again. But throughout these phases there are plenty of warning signs that something is wrong with our recovery. Warning sings reveal themselves as our inability to cope with our emotions and changes in our thinking, attitudes and behaviours in recovery that — if left unaddressed — lead us to use drugs again.

Commonly amongst us, we relapse because we ignore these warning signs and make believe the quality of our recovery is not suffering. Based on the fact that we are not using drugs, we delude ourselves that we have nothing to worry about. But if we become aware to what is happening to us through recognizing these warning signs, we can make healthy choices and take recovery measures to stop the process developing into a full blown relapse.


For your awareness and vigilance, below is a summary of the common changes that happen to our thinking, attitudes and behaviour in recovery that has led many of us in recovery to use drugs again.

Addiction relapse warning signs



1- Mental changes

List of common distorted and insane thinking patterns that have the potential to lead us into a relapse:


1. Emotional confusion: When we find ourselves emotionally at a loss on how to cope with the stress of everyday problems.

  • Not keeping our recovery as your number one priority in our life and allow other issues to take precedence
  • When we don’t practise the principle of “just for today” in recovery life and wallow in the past or worry about the future
  • When we don’t practise acceptance and tolerance in our daily affaires and start letting grievances fill our head
  • When we stop applying the principles and slogans of recovery to your daily affaires
  • When we ignore problems, allowing them to build up


2. Extreme thinking: When our thinking takes us to the extremes and we start to believe the program is not working for us. When we start to think drugs are the only way out and believe there is nowhere to turn and no way to solve your problems. These may be times when we:

  • Think no one in recovery understands or can help us
  • Think our problems are too bad and too big, and that they will never get sorted out
  • Think our problems are different from others in the Fellowship and that we cannot identify or get support from them
  • Think the 12 Step program is not working for us
  • Expect to get rewarded for our recovery by our family, friends, co-workers or Fellowship


3. Return to denial: When we stop sharing honestly about our feelings and thoughts to others. When we ignore our deteriorating emotional and mental state and pretend everything is ok with our life and recovery when, in fact, it’s not. Examples such as:

  • Lying about how we really feel
  • Pretending our life in recovery is great
  • Not asking for help
  • Not sharing honestly in meetings or with our sponsor
  • Trying to please or impress others, as opposed to being true to how we really feel
  • Remembering only the good days when we used drugs
  • Denying or minimising the magnitude of our addiction and all the harm and damage it brought to our life


4. Defensive behaviours: When we become defensive if anyone tries to help us or tell us the truth about the state of our recovery. Examples such as:

  • When we refuse Fellowship support and suggestions and start relying on ourselves for solutions to our problems
  • Stop going to meetings, seeing our sponsor, working our Steps.
  • Becoming angry and resentful at anyone who tries to help us
  • Isolating ourselves
  • Blaming our family, work, Fellowship for our problems in order to use them as excuses to use drugs again
  • Thinking “my problem is not addiction, I have other major life issues I first need to deal with”


5. Pessimism & escape: when we start feeling depressed and have very low energy. When we are feeling so down that we are either contemplating suicide or thinking about using drugs to escape or find some relief. We might:

  • Perceive every emotion as bad and want to escape from it
  • Have a negative and dark view of life in recovery; have no hope and are unable to imagine a good future ahead
  • Have unrealistically high expectations of our recovery and want the miracles to come true for you right away
  • Expect life in recovery to be always good and not have plans for the bad day


6. Compulsive & impulsive: when we start to use compulsive behaviours or cross addictions to escape or cope with our feelings and problems. When we start becoming too controlling of others around us and want to exert power and authority over them as a way to ease our pain and frustration. We may not even be aware that we are using these compulsive behaviours as the means to escape from our real issues. We might:

  • Switch to behaviour addictions such as sex, work or gambling as our means to cope or escape life
  • Try to exert power or authority over others in a vain attempt to control our own feelings and problems
  • Misuse prescription drugs as a way to get high, justifying it as acceptable because they are either over the counter medication or prescribed by our doctor


7. Obsessions: When we start to obsess about using drugs, convincing ourselves it is the only way out of our misery and troubles. When our thinking convinces us that we have no choice but to use drugs to experience relief, comfort or joy. When we put ourselves in high-risk situations to experience the rush of a high, which in turn activates our cravings to use drugs. Examples such as:

  • Visiting our old using friends or places where we used drugs
  • Listening to war stories and fantasizing about getting high
  • Experimenting with controlled drug use
  • Switching to another type of substance under the illusion that only one particular drug was our problem
  • Convincing ourselves that we are now cured or that we can now manage or control our drug use
  • Thinking that it is OK to use drugs if this or that happens — i.e., if a family member dies, if I lose my job, if my wife leaves me
  • Thinking an occasion entitles us to use drugs, i.e. our birthday, New Year.
  • Becoming jealous of people around us who can use drugs
  • Making excuses for taking drugs – blaming it on people, places and things that “forced” you to use drugs


8. Addictive thinking: when our thinking convinces us that we have no option but to use drugs, that the other options are to go crazy or commit suicide and so we pick up drugs again. Our addictive thinking now back in full force, we rationalise using more since we have relapsed and think we might as well enjoy it for a while. The reality of course is that drugs never relieve our problems but compound them, making life ever more difficult.


9. Withdrawal symptoms: For some of us in the early days of recovery, when we have reduced or stopped using drugs, we experience withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms are naturally difficult to deal with and our thinking can very well convince us the only way to find relief is to use drugs again. During this early tumultuous phase of recovery we experience difficulties in thinking logically. We are also highly emotional, and may experience sleep disturbances, memory difficulties, or become accident-prone. We are also not yet able to manage our emotions in a healthy manner. All of which makes us vulnerable and tempted to use drugs as a way to find relief or escape.

To help you cope with withdrawal symptoms and learn recovery tools to manage them so as not to relapse, there is extensive information in Drug Detox & withdrawal.



2- Attitude changes

List of common destructive attitudes in recovery that have the potential to lead you into a relapse:


1. Self-reliance

  • I can recover by myself, I don’t need the help of the Fellowship
  • I can control or manage my drug use
  • The program is not working for me – there has to be another way to recover
  • This is a religious program, I don’t like all this God stuff

2. Pride

  • My way is the best and only way. I don’t need a higher Power
  • My problems are special and different from others in the Fellowship, I cannot relate to them nor can anybody understand or help me
  • I can recover by myself; I don’t need the Fellowship

3. Denial

  • Addiction is not a disease, I just need to learn how to stop or manage it
  • Recovery is boring, I will never have fun again
  • I am cured, I will never use drugs again
  • I’m not as bad as this or that person in the meeting, I can manage my drug use
  • My problem is this specific drug, I can use other types of substances
  • I enjoyed it when I was using drugs, I had fun friends
  • I don’t know what my family or Fellowship are talking about, my recovery is fine

4. Self-defeating attitude

  • I will never be happy
  • I feel hopeless
  • Why try to recover, I am bound to use drugs again
  • I don’t care to recover. If nobody else cares, why should I?
  • Nobody needs to know how I feel, why should I trust anyone or ask for help
  • If I hide behind everyone else’s problems and try to help them, I won’t need to work on my own issues

5. Rationalisation

  • When my life gets sorted out, when my family, work, finances get sorted out, then I can celebrate and use drugs again
  • I have been good in recovery, I deserve a break
  • My problems are too bad and big; they will never get resolved so I might as well use again
  • I can’t change the way I think
  • If I move, change my job, etc. etc., then I can manage my drug use
  • I’m depressed and drugs will make me feel better



3- Behavior changes

In addition to changes in our thinking and attitudes in recovery that can lead us down to a relapse, there are certain changes in our behaviours we need to be aware of. We are suffering from a chronic disease that requires our daily care and attention. If we don’t use the support of our Fellowship and work our program on a daily basis, we are bound to go back to our old behaviours and habits, which for us means using drugs again.

List of common behaviours that have the potential to lead you into a relapse:

  • Reducing our meeting attendance
  • Not meeting with our sponsor
  • Not working our program
  • Taking up high-risk behaviours such as being around people, places and situations that trigger us to use drugs
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Neglecting our healthy eating and sleeping habits
  • Procrastinating in our daily affairs
  • Impulsivity, compulsivity in our behaviour and conduct


There is a list of general suggestions on how to apply recovery tools and principles to maintain your recovery and ward off a relapse in: Relapse Prevention tools

Question or Comment

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